Flawed kings hold the age

Two men, one mission - redemption. When Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez clash at the Sao Paulo Arena (3am, tomorrow, Singapore time), a lot more than the fate of their teams is at stake.

With both England and Uruguay needing a win to keep their Brazil World Cup futures alive, this Group D clash will have a "winner takes all" feel to it.

But for the two men who already shoulder so much of their nation's hopes, Rooney and Suarez carry an extra, unwanted burden, one they hope to have shaken off at the end of the 90 minutes.

For Rooney, it is the threat of being labelled the biggest flop in World Cup history.

His abysmal World Cup Finals record of zero goals in nine matches baffles the mind, considering he scored 16 goals in total as he helped England qualify for the 2010 and 2014 finals. In total, he has 39 international goals to his name and is tipped to overtake Bobby Charlton (49 goals) as England's all-time leading scorer.

Yet, strangely, his scoring touch has deserted him on the biggest stage. In England's opener against Italy last week, his assist for the Three Lions' only goal in the 1-2 defeat was overshadowed by another subdued performance, remembered for a bad miss from 10m and a mis-hit corner-kick.

The English media questioned if he was playing out of position on the left, with some pundits even wondering if he should be dropped from the first team.

Rooney's response was to request for extra training with England's reserves on Monday while the first-team squad had a lighter session. But when that led to speculation that his outing with the second-stringers meant a reduced role in the Uruguay game, he took to Facebook to defend himself.

"I sometimes wonder what the press are getting at," Rooney posted. "I said from the start I want to do everything I can to make sure I'm ready for these World Cup games and as part of that I was doing extra training a week before the squad joined up. That's exactly what I did yesterday, my own extra training because that's what I wanted to do."

It was a rare rant from the Scouser but one English fans can get hope from.

It is unlikely that England manager Roy Hodgson will drop the Manchester United hitman. Reports out of the England camp now suggest that the coach may restore Rooney to his favoured central role, in a bid to get the best out of his main striker. Hodgson will take heart from the fact that Rooney is pumped up for the crucial clash - an observation Gary Neville, Rooney's former United team-mate and now England assistant coach, noted.

"That's his character. He just wants to play every second of every day," said Neville.


"He has an enthusiasm for football that is incredible and he's been like that since the moment I played against him when he was a young Everton kid."

It is an enthusiasm Suarez can relate to.

Like Rooney, he also wants to banish the image people have of him at the World Cup - of being the man who cheated Ghana of a place in the last four at the 2010 World Cup.

In the quarter-finals against Ghana in South Africa, he infamously blocked an extra-time goalbound header with his hands. Had it gone in, Ghana would have been through. That led to a penalty which Ghana subsequently missed and Suarez, who was in tears after being sent off for the handball, suddenly burst into celebration. He would later claim to have made the "save of the tournament" as Uruguay prevailed in a penalty shootout.

Suarez had already shone at the competition but was widely criticised for his actions against Ghana. Footballing genius or footballing cheat? Compatriot Gus Poyet offers an insight to the other side of Suarez.

"Every time he is on the pitch, it is not about contracts or money or anything apart from beating you and winning the game," Poyet, who is the manager of English Premier League side Sunderland, told The Times of London. "If you score one, he will try to score two to beat you on his own. If you score three, he will score four or five. You don't find too many like that nowadays."

Indeed, Suarez is a rare find. He has formed a deadly partnership with Edinson Cavani, with the pair regularly hitting the target. He was sorely missed when Uruguay fell 1-3 to Costa Rica. But Suarez, who was left out with a knee injury, has declared he is fit and ready for England.

"I have a barbarian desire to help my team-mates, to be able to go onto the pitch," Suarez told reporters in typical defiant manner. "I feel like not being able to (play) has left me with savage impotence."

Uruguay will hope that Suarez is productive in front of goal in the vital clash. As will England with Rooney.

With Rooney at 28 and Suarez at 27, Brazil 2014 could be their swansong, or at least the last World Cup where they will be at their peak.

Both hope to create a new legacy to be remembered by. After 90 minutes in Sao Paulo, we will know who has written a better alternative to their current narrative.

This article was first published on June 19, 2014.
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